Maureen Dowd’s article, “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?” in the current New York Times Magazine laments the post-feminist return of many educated young women to husband-seeking tactics of yore. She wonders if feminism was a hoax, leaving high-achieving women, like Maureen Dowd, with careers and skills that actually scare off husbands, and preclude children.
Dowd cites some of the sociobiological evidence for enduring differences between men and women, especially in how they normally seek a mate. She does not dispute this evidence, but laments it as a fact, and feels betrayed by the decades of social constructivist chimeras of androgyny.
I think Maureen Dowd is giving up too easily. I think it is true that men and women are different in their hardwiring, different in what they seek in a mate, and how they go about that search. But I also know what sociologists know: the normal tendency of a group is not the doom, or fate, or limit on what each individual in that group can do, or will do. Most men and most women prefer a marriage in which he is a little taller, older, smarter, richer, and higher status than she is. This leaves high-achieving women (not to mention older women) in a difficult position, which they lament in, say, the New York Times. Of course, the same process leaves low-achieving men in an equally difficult position, but their troubles rarely find voice in the Times.
Some men do seek the smartest, highest-achieving women. Some men know that looks fade, but brains endure. A smart man, who plans to earn a professional income, can often figure out that marrying a smart woman is likely to get him smarter kids. And two professional incomes means more money than one, or than one career and “girl money.”
Men who seek smart, high-achieving women are not random mutations in the otherwise benighted field of men. Smart, educated people with knowledge-based jobs are a class, often called the knowledge class. They are in a struggle with the old property-owning and –making class. Marriages in the old owning class are based on him trying to earn and own more in order to support her and the children materially. In exchange, she supports him and the children emotionally. Marriages in the knowledge class, on the other hand, are based on husband and wife supporting one another, and their children, in brighter and deeper achievement. Both classes, at their highest levels, exercise real power in the world. Each class makes a serious bid to be the ruling class. Both can produce excellent marriages.
For examples of each kind of marriage, we can think of George and Laura Bush, as compared to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
I don’t know Maureen Dowd’s history or prospects. I do know, though, that there are whole subcultures of men who do not simply judge women by their appearance, but are attracted to brains and accomplishment in a potential wife. Likewise, I know whole subcultures of women who do not judge men simply as “success objects,” to tie themselves to, tie down, and tie up.
Men and women who seek spouses on the basis of brains, ambition, and achievement will have the last laugh.